Spotlight Series #2 … Children’s Home Society (Lutheran Social Service)

Children’s Home Society  (CHS) is a wonderful adoption agency, my favorite in fact!  CHS is the agency we used to create our family and we’ve been part of their community for 17 years. Our social workers were supportive and caring. The process was understandable and thorough. And, I do think they did what they could to help us understand the inherent trauma that is part of creating a family from adoption; giving us a healthy gratitude and respect for all the tough decisions that are made along the way by/for families of origin, kids, administrators and forever families.

So, when it came time to get more actively involved in our community, CHS was at the top of our list.  I reached out to Maureen Warren (SVP Family Services) to learn more about their relationship with Lutheran Social Service (LSS) and how I might help. Interestingly enough, the relationship between CHS and LSS is both mutually beneficial (from an operations stand point) and complex (from a financial standpoint).  Long story short, they ‘merged’ a few years back and now CHS operates as a service area within LSS.  I serve on the finance committee at CHS and it’s a real education in nonprofit cash flow, funding and administrative costs.  But, again, you can learn ALL about CHS and LSS at their websites … I’m here to talk about …

What problem are they trying to solve?

What is my role in helping support this organization (& what have I learned)?

PROBLEM STATEMENT – LSS is a ubiquitous organization in the Twin Cities, they have a broad range of amazing services and are well known for their human services offerings and quality.  LSS is a statewide organization, serving all 87 counties of Minnesota (and now parts of North Dakota and Wisconsin!) in some capacity. However, different services have different regions of strength and LSS may not be as deeply embedded into all communities as they could be.  In fact, the growth in Rochester has outpaced local social services organizations ability to scale at the same rate. The local congregations and community organizations started calling and asking for more support and services. However, without a building or established physical presence, it was hard to move fast.  On top of that, like many organizations LSS has always done strategic planning at the service area level, not at a market level. Enter Laura Blue. Maureen hired Laura as her New Business Development Leader in November with the specific thought to how to best solve the problem of entry into Rochester.  Laura is hitting it out of the park!  In the short time Laura has been in role, LSS has supported and leveraged 3 existing support services in Rochester (Senior Companions, Youth Homelessness and Ways to Give).  She is actively working with leadership on entering the market with 3 more services (Veterans Services, Therapeutic Foster Care and Financial Services) and are in early implementation phase for Host Homes for people with disabilities.

MY ROLE – Maureen asked if I could help Laura by sharing tools/resources and be a thought partner as she stood up her priorities in this space. Our 1st order of business was the business model canvas (BMC).  We weren’t sure how this was going to work across 20+ service areas but we started with the services that had low barriers to regional growth. Our goal was to find areas of commonly shared operations, clients, partners and communication.  It was fun to see Laura see the possibilities of this tool as a foundational starting point. It also allowed her to get up to speed on all the areas of service at LSS in record time.  Next Laura created a funnel approach to prioritizing the order in which to explore opportunities. (This model has been working beautifully in the financial services area).  I helped Laura plan a deep dive session with the senior leaders to showcase her thought process, use of the BMC and suggested approach. In our planning for the session we talked about it being informative, interactive and – most importantly – driving a sense of commitment and urgency to act. They were floored and things started to move quickly (see above)! However, we learned that the strategic entry into Rochester was going to be much more iterative and organic than we anticipated.  This was reinforced when we attended a symposium in Rochester to learn more about their nonprofit market gaps, constraints and biggest challenges.  Hearing directly from local nonprofits influenced the direction that LSS decided to take in specific service areas and how Laura could approach those leaders with ideas.  This week she’s meeting with a select group of senior leaders to brainstorm on whats next for New Business Development.

This work feeds me.  Not only does it stretch me into new experiences, but it also challenges my assumptions about how the sector operations, exposes me to cutting edge ideas in nonprofit and allows me to interact with amazing, seasoned and experienced leaders.  In particular, this work reinforces that its essential to have a growth mindset (test, learn, iterate) and that there isn’t one approach or model that works for all service areas.

I’m really looking forward to hearing about how her ideas are received this week and what else I can do to help her craft a new role in this new space.

Plus, it’s fun to work with a smart, highly motivated and creative leader.  (And, it should be noted that due to her efforts, she’s been asked to take on more responsibility and assist with impact evaluation in Duluth and community engagement in North Minneapolis and Eastside St. Paul.)

Thank you Maureen and Laura!